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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | November 8, 2021

15 men's basketball players to watch for national player, freshman of the year awards

College men's basketball players to watch this season

The 2021-22 college basketball season tips off on Tuesday, Nov. 9 and March Madness correspondent Andy Katz broke down his top national player of the year and freshman of the year candidates entering the season. Note that Katz said his list of freshman of the year candidates could include a player or two who could compete for national player of the year honors next spring.

Here are the top players to watch in men's basketball this season, according to Katz.

National Player of the Year candidates

Collin Gillespie, Villanova

Villanova's Collin Gillespie

Gillespie, who as a freshman helped Villanova win the national championship in 2018, returned for a fifth season after being sidelined with an injury during the postseason in the 2021 season. He was named Co-Big East Player of the Year as a senior after averaging 14.0 points, 4.6 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 37.6 percent from three, which is roughly his career average.

He could now be the leading scorer for a Villanova team that is ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP poll.

Buddy Boeheim, Syracuse

Boeheim helped Syracuse reach the Sweet 16 as a No. 11 seed last season, when he averaged 17.8 points per game for the season, but 25 points per game in the Orange's five postseason games between the ACC and NCAA tournaments. He was 25-for-52 from 3-point range during that span.

Drew Timme, Gonzaga

With a scoring average of 19 points per game, Timme was the leading scorer for last season's Gonzaga squad that took an undefeated record into the national championship game. He's now a headliner for the preseason No. 1 Zags, along with freshman sensation Chet Holmgren, who's on the list of freshman of the year candidates below.

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Jaden Ivey, Purdue

Purdue's Jaden Ivey

Ivey could be primed for a breakout sophomore season after he averaged a team second-best 11.1 points per game as a freshman. Forward Trevion Williams (15.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game) and center Zach Edey (8.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game) will warrant their share of early-season hype, and both players deserve it, but Ivey could also add the elite guard play that's required for a deep NCAA tournament run.

Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana

Jackson-Davis elected to return to Indiana for his junior season, where he'll play for Indiana alum and first-year head coach Mike Woodson. As a sophomore, the 6-9 forward averaged 19.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game.

Hunter Dickinson, Michigan

Dickinson was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year last spring after he averaged 14.1 points and 7.4  rebounds per game for Big Ten champion Michigan, which earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Given that he only played 26 minutes per game, Dickinson's traditional, per-game statistics could become even more impressive during his sophomore campaign.

Kofi Cockburn, Illinois

Cockburn made what was arguably one of the most significant stay-or-go decisions of any men's basketball player last spring as he elected to return to Illinois after averaging 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore, which earned him first-team All-Big Ten and second-team All-America honors.

Johnny Juzang, UCLA

UCLA's Johnny Juzang

Juzang led UCLA to the Final Four as a No. 11 seed and he finished as the NCAA tournament's leading scorer. For the season, he averaged 16.0 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.

Freshman of the Year candidates

Jabari Smith, Auburn

Smith is a 6-10 forward who the advanced analytics site barttorvik.com projects to average 13.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season.

Peyton Watson, UCLA

Watson, a 6-8 forward, joins a UCLA team that returned all five starters from last season's NCAA tournament run and is ranked No. 2 in the preseason as a result. That's a crowded rotation in which to find minutes, but he could potentially provide a unique skill set on a roster that has depth at the guard and traditional big man positions.

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Caleb Houstan, Michigan

Houstan is 6-8 and he could be the frontrunner to win Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors next spring, like his teammate Hunter Dickinson did last season. Houstan is projected to average 11.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, per barttorvik.com.

Jalen Duren, Memphis

Duren was considered to be arguably the best player in the 2022 graduating class but he reclassified and joined a Memphis team that won the NIT last season and finished the season as the most efficient defensive team in the country, per kenpom.com. The 6-10 freshman is projected to average 10.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, per barttorvik.com.

Emoni Bates, Memphis

Memphis' Emoni Bates

Similar to Duren, Bates was a standout in his high school class but he enrolled to join the Tigers this season, where the 6-8 freshman is projected to average 15.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, per barttorvik.com.

Paolo Banchero, Duke

Banchero, the 6-9 power forward, is talented enough to potentially put himself in the national player of the year discussion and he's the main reason why the Blue Devils are projected to have a bounce-back season after missing the NCAA tournament last spring. He's projected to average 17.4  points and 7.6 rebounds per game, per barttorvik.com.

Chet Holmgren, Gonzaga

Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren

Holmgren makes up half of what might be the most talented frontcourt in the country as he'll play alongside Drew Timme, who led the Zags in scoring last season. While it remains to be seen how the two players share the floor together or how their minutes could be staggered at times, both players are expected to put up monstrous numbers this season. The 7-footer is projected to average 18.3 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, per barttorvik.com.

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